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Gordon Campbell On The Foreshore & Seabed / Gaza

Gordon Campbell on the foreshore and seabed deal, and Gaza blockade

By Gordon Campbell

The Maori Party seems to have won few immediate and tangible benefits from its long awaited deal on the foreshore and seabed - and nothing at all (beyond a cosmetic name change) from the position that was staked out recently by the government in its consultation document. Furthermore, it remains uncertain whether this deal will play out narrowly or generously in future, when it comes to delivering any material gains to the Maori communities living adjacent to the foreshore and seabed.

For now.. yes, the hated Labour government legislation will be scrapped and the option of going to court to pursue customary title has been restored. Yet on paper at least, the relevant test of continued use is extremely high. One of the factors still to be revealed is just how liberally in practice any court will handle situations where arguably, the ‘continued use’ by Maori applicants has been interrupted by Treaty breaches by the Crown in the past.

As things stand, the foreshore and seabed will exist in future in a ‘no owner’ limbo of ‘public space’ where continued public access is guaranteed, and no sale of the relevant land is allowed. Customary title, when granted, will have the same status according to Dr Pita Sharples, as fee simple. Further development of that land and its mineral rights will be possible, subject to the provisions of the Resource Management Act. Over time, as Tariana Turia is arguing, this could involve substantial benefits for Maori.

She may be right. After all, since the only major constraint on customary title (and the only real difference from freehold title) is that outright sale is not allowed, this still means that anything short of sale is potentially on the table. Maori with customary title could therefore negotiate long term leases of the relevant land to a local or foreign joint venture mining operation to exploit say, gold or iron sand deposits on its stretch of the foreshore and seabed – and this would be subject to all the provisions of the RMA, including the capacity for the Crown to ‘call in’ projects of national significance.

How public access rights would be weighed and would play out in that situation remains to be seen – but clearly, any substantial mineral development project and unfettered public access could struggle to co-exist.

For now though, the Maori Party has probably achieved enough on this core issue to justify its existence. It has won a largely symbolic victory against the old law, and has restored the – also largely symbolic – right to pursue customary title either in court or in negotiations with the government. Whether any of this translates into material gain for Maori - and into gains or losses for anyone else – will depend in future on the plans of Maori and a list of potential developers, subject to further legal manoeuvring in the courts, including in the Environment Court.

How such action would play out is anyone’s guess, but both the legal test and the political stakes will be extremely high. At the end of the day, it will do no good whatsoever to the mana of the Maori Party if a test case seeking customary rights and/or a right to pursue minerals development of a stretch of the foreshore and seabed is taken - and then falls, at the first legal hurdle.


Gaza blockade

So Israel has decided to investigate itself about the legality of its actions against the Gaza aid flotilla, and the Obama administration is cheering it on.

As this ridiculous charade plays out, the children of Gaza continue to be starved. Thanks to the blockade, they are being stunted by malnutrition, as this news report on the ground from Aljazeera makes clear.

This report, issued last weekend by the International Committee of the Red Cross patiently and thoroughly the human costs to the people of Gaza clear to the entire world :

The closure imposed on the Gaza Strip is about to enter its fourth year, choking off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty and warfare, while the quality of Gaza's health care system has reached an all-time low. The whole of Gaza's civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.

The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law…
Fertile farmland located close to the border fence has been turned into a wasteland by ongoing hostilities, affecting people's livelihoods in many rural communities. The buffer zone imposed by Israel extends in practice over one kilometre into the Gaza Strip, covering a total area of about 50 square kilometres that is host to nearly a third of Gaza's farmland and a large share of its livestock. Agricultural activities in the area are hampered by security conditions.

Israel's enforcement of the buffer zone and frequent hostilities have resulted not only in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian property but also in the impoverishment and displacement of numerous families.Gaza's fishermen have been greatly affected by successive reductions imposed by Israel on the size of the fishing grounds they are allowed to exploit. The latest restriction to three nautical miles has cut down both the quantity and quality of the catch.

As a result, nearly 90% of Gaza's 4000 fishermen are now considered either poor (with a monthly income of between 100 and 190 US dollars) or very poor (earning less than 100 dollars a month), up from 50% in 2008. In their struggle to survive, the fishermen have little choice but to sail into no-go zones, at the risk of being shot by the Israeli navy…

Gaza is suffering from an acute electricity crisis. The power supply in Gaza is interrupted for seven hours a day on average. The consequences for public services, especially the primary health-care system, are devastating. Hospitals rely on generators to cope with the daily blackouts. The power cuts pose a serious risk to the treatment of patients – and to their very lives. It takes two to three minutes for a generator to begin operating, and during that time electronic devices do not function. As a result, artificial respirators must be reactivated manually, dialysis treatment is disrupted and surgery is suspended as operating theatres are plunged into darkness. To make matters worse, fuel reserves for hospital generators keep drying up.

Three times this year, fuel shortages have forced hospitals to cancel all elective surgery and accept emergency cases only. Gaza's paediatric hospital had to transfer all its patients to another facility because it could no longer function. Laundry services have repeatedly shut down.
With the prospect of increased electricity consumption during the hot summer months when air conditioning is required, the situation is likely to deteriorate further if hospitals do not receive ample fuel.

Fluctuations in the power supply can also damage essential medical equipment. Repairs are difficult owing to the closure, under which the transfer into Gaza of spare parts for medical equipment is subject to excessive delays of up to several months…

A large number of Gazans are the descendants of refugee families who were uprooted and displaced by prior illegal seizures and occupations in 1948, and 1967. In a decade or so, will the international community look back at the Israeli treatment of the Gazans in the same way that now we look back at Rwanda – and say how could we have let such atrocities take place, unchecked?


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